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Burglary of a Conveyance

Just to make sure we're all on the same page here, "conveyance" means car.  Or, it can mean a boat.  Or, just about anything motorized. This crime is a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and is governed by Florida Statute 810.011(3) [I doubt many of you need to know the statute, but just in case you're curious, its here].

Burglary to a conveyance charges are pretty common in a tourist town like Orlando. Many burglaries occur where drivers park their cars for extended periods of time (airport parking lots, etc).  Also, burglary to a conveyance charges are common in gym parking lots, so please, don't leave your purse out in plain view as you go in to get a workout--someone may be watching and probably figures you'll be in the gym for at least an hour.  I'm just saying.

The most common burglary to a conveyance involves the breaking into a car to steal a purse, phone, or laptop in plain view.  The issue often becomes whether or not a defendant actually "broke into the car", or just reached into an open window and grabbed what was laying there.  Obviously, the issue of "entry" is easier in a burglary of a dwelling case. Homes have windows and front doors.  

The basic burglary rule here is that, if a suspect enters a car to steal something, that's all it takes to get a burglary.  That being said, what if someone steals the tires and rims off a car?  This would not constitute a burglary of a conveyance because nothing happened "within" the car itself.  No entry into the car means no burglary.  The gist of a burglary to a conveyance is the intent to commit a crime (usually theft) "within" the car.  Even the act of siphoning gasoline from a car does not constitute burglary, but popping the hood to remove parts from the engine compartment can support a burglary charge. 

Many burglary of a conveyance cases arise from a witness observing a broken car window. But, is a broken car window enough to prove burglary? Well, such a situation can be found in Gant v. State, 640 So.2d 1180 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994), in which Gant was convicted of burglarizing a vehicle parked in the Vero Beach airport parking lot. Gant confessed--generally--to burglarizing several cars in said parking lot, but the state only presented evidence at trial of one vehicle which had only a broken window, but nothing stolen out of it. The sole issue for the Gant court was "entry", and the state presented no proof that the defendant ever "entered" the vehicle. Without proof that the airspace in the car was broken by part of Gant's body or an instrument used to break the glass, there can be no inference that Gant intruded into the car. The court overturned Gant's conviction for burglary to a conveyance.

In another "entry" to a conveyance case, a juvenile by the name of "J.Y." was found guilty of burglary to a conveyance because bystander's observed him leaning into a vehicle. J.Y. v. State, 688 So.2d 1015 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1997). The conviction was overturned because "the state did not present any evidence that J.Y. had the intent to commit a crime in the vehicle." Id. Please note that intent can be easy to prove, depending upon one's "behavior". Florida law provides that "proof of the entering of such structure or conveyance at any time stealthily and without consent of the owner or occupant thereof is prima facie evidence of entering with intent to commit an offense." Section 810.07(1), Florida Statutes. [emphasis added].

Many burglary of a conveyance cases start with suspicious activities in parking lots.  I can't tell you how many cases I've defended over the years that began when someone noticed a person pulling on several door handles.  This is how it all begins.  The police get called.  The person who was pulling on door handles gets caught, and there are cell phones and laptops on his person--all taken from various cars in the parking lot.  But this common fact scenario also gives rise to several legal issues.  First, was the person who called the police an anonymous tipster, or do the police know the identity of the person calling in the suspicious activity?  Sounds silly, but this is important, because the police cannot simply stop citizens in parking lots on the whim of an unknown caller.  If the police cannot verify what they've been told anonymously, all of the stolen items would be inadmissible in court and the state would be forced to drop all charges.  So, it is important to tease out how the police became involved.

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